This month, Kalix speaks with John Melton, Head of School for Virginia’s Fuqua School in our monthly series on leadership reflections by heads of school.
Kalix: What is the most important leadership quality for a head of school?
John Melton: Being able to remain calm and objective in both challenging and everyday situations is key. Heads have so many different foci at any given moment. It’s so important to project an approach of warmth, reason and engagement no matter what is going on or with whom you are speaking. I am naturally an even-keeled individual, and I maintain it by a lot of listening. When people’s emotions are escalated for any reason, there’s a desire to be heard. I make sure that I give them the time and space so they know that they have my full attention and that I am focused on a resolution that takes into account their consideration and the best interests of the school.
Kalix: What is the most underrated quality?
John Melton: My answer is not because heads of school don’t posses this but because it’s so important: humility. You are expected to be out in front leading, and justifiably so, but humility is a strength, not a weakness. It’s an understanding that none of this works without incredibly talented people around you. It’s a true appreciation of your community and knowing that one person cannot carry the load.
Kalix: What was your first job at a school and what did it teach you about leadership?
John Melton: My first job was teaching science at a public high school in Virginia. The department had two recent graduates with a little teaching experience and a very experienced chair. There was a very high level of collaboration between the team, which was a huge leg up for me. They welcomed me into that collaborative effort, and I learned more about teaching from those three colleagues in two months than I did in all of my preservice training. They taught me that every contribution is significant and that there is always an opportunity to grow. From a leadership perspective, naming and encouraging that within your community is incredibly important. As a society, we look for leadership in the most obvious places, but it’s important to find it in the non-traditional places, too.
Kalix: Best advice for independent school leaders?
John Melton: Every interaction – at school, outside of school, in a crisis or day-to-day – is an opportunity to build relationships and nurture them, which is mutually beneficial over time. You never know where [a connection] will lead or when it will come full circle. If you are always putting yourself out there, being curious and looking for the best in people, it will serve you well over time.
Head of School for the Fuqua School in Farmville, Virginia, since 2015, John Melton’s career in independent school leadership includes serving as upper school head at The Country School (Easton, Maryland) and upper school dean of students, director of summer school and director of outdoor education at Miami’s Palmer Trinity School. He has taught upper-level science at both independent and public schools and served as a faculty research assistant and technician at Cambridge, Maryland’s Horn Point Laboratory, researching submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) ecology with an emphasis on habitat restoration, developing related curriculum and planning and teaching teacher and student workshops related to SAV ecology and restoration. John holds a B.S. in Biology from Hampden-Sydney College and two master’s degrees: M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Marymount University and M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Maryland. He serves the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) on various accrediting teams (member and chair) and helped to lead Maryland Association of Independent School (AIMS) visits. A participant in numerous leadership conferences, John is also a member of the Moton Council for the Robert Russa Moton Museum.
Sarah Achenbach is Communications Lead for Kalix Marketing.
Catch up on past interviews with Heads of Schools beginning here: